on the Suburbs

Recently, Arcade Fire and Spike Jonze shared their 25 minute short film with the world. The film is inspired by Arcade Fire’s 2010 concept albums about the Suburbs. After watching this film I had a conversation with a friend, Elizabeth Balge, about the idea and reality of the suburb. I have posted the conversation in its original, almost interview-esque, format. I hope to make this a regular feature on my blog. Therefore, if you have a topic you’d like to talk about please get in touch with me here: vbauters@gmail.com

The conversation is below. Elizabeth’s comments are in bold/ italics/ underlined, while mine are in plain font.

There is certainly more to discuss about this film and topic. Leave comments and let the conversation continue.

How do you feel about suburbs in general? positive/negative? Do they have the intended effect on community organization?

I think the concept of the “suburb” is lost. It’s been over mythologized. Instead, we’re nostalgic about feeling nostalgic about suburbs. I think there is something beautifully communist or socialist about the homes that look the same, but suburbs are not evil; nor are they a good idea. They are simply easy targets for hate, protest, and sentimentality.

We all love and hate where we come from. The suburb has simply become a symbol for what we love and hate about our hometown. Almost an archetype. A pattern that we can all recognize, and in a sociological way, it is fascinating how the symbol of the suburb (or should I say the language of the suburbanite?) can connect our distant, yet common, shared childhoods. It allows for conversations that would otherwise seem impossible to have.

Ok. I think the idea of a suburb has become more than “almost an archetype”… I would argue that it is one of the most important archetypes, especially for people of our generation. And while it does bring people together and connect people who would otherwise have nothing in common, I think it can have the opposite effect. Depending on whether you feel mostly positive or negative about the idea of a suburb.


For example, my friend Robin.  She grew up in Canada, and she obviously understands what a North American suburb is. But she grew up in the country and doesn’t appreciate what it’s like to have neighbors who have known her since she was born.


She doesn’t believe in suburbs. I think I do.

Yes, I would agree with that whole-heartedly. Though what you’re getting at is something the album is also getting at, and that is the concept of waiting.

The suburb, from the perspective of youth, is a symbol for America, for waiting. Waiting to achieve a common dream, or to escape the dream. But essentially, you’re waiting to act on your values. And though you and Robin are in some disagreement, you are acting on your values. And, if at least for a moment, we specifically talk about the album, I think that Arcade Fire is quietly saying that waiting to be your own person is what growing up is about.

Growing up in the suburbs, or growing up anywhere, is about waiting. And the challenge of trying to keep our focus on what is important during long, long days and years of waiting.

I think there are a lucky few among us whose youth dovetails with their adulthood in such a way that they don’t feel like they’ve waited at all.

Hmm. Explain more. Because I feel like I immediately want to disagree with that. Or, at least with the part about them being lucky.

Ahh. Fair enough. And I may disagree as well, as I try to explain.


Maybe lucky isn’t the best word. I think people whose definitions of success, happiness, adulthood, etc change very little over the course of their lives do miss out on the valuable experience of growing up and becoming your own person. And I guess, despite the fact that that’s an integral part of coming-of-age, it’s a time that causes a lot of stress and instability.


I guess sometimes I think it would be easier if I were more willing to completely buy into the ideas set before me from my childhood.

Yes. I think they miss out on something very essential indeed. I’m all about the clean breaks. The propulsive transition. To me, easy means ignorant. The problem with childhood values is that they are given and expected to be acknowledged as common knowledge, but they are taught without experience. Experience is needed to know if you really value family, or adventure, or marriage. The suburbs become for some people a symbol for a value in childhood, in backyard games, and long summers. In that way I think the suburbs had an unexpected beauty from what their original intention.


~ by Vince Bauters on June. 30. 2011.

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